+ "The Last King of Scotland": Ah, we love the smell of award season on a Friday afternoon. Of Kevin Macdonald‘s portrait of Idi Amin: David Edelstein at New York writes that it is "phenomenally well directed," Stephanie Zacharek at Salon thinks that Macdonald, in what is his first feature, "seems to be in almost complete control of the material and its pacing." Slate‘s Dana Stevens is less ebullient: "’The Last King of Scotland’ is wrenching to sit through, but in the end, it doesn’t leave you with quite enough to think about"; LA Weekly‘s Ella Taylor suggests that "Working with fictional material seems to have unsettled Macdonald, for the action sequences feel hard-working and awkwardly derivative of Under Fire, Salvador and other superior thrillers about Westerners entangled in the legacy of imperialism."
Manohla Dargis, who calls the film "queasily enjoyable" and gives it an otherwise fairly good review, slips in that "the larger message here, one that might make you blanch after you nod, is that the misery of other people makes unsettling entertainment, no matter how pretty the pictures and valuable the players" (which is vaguely the reason we ended up passing on this one).
Reverse Shot‘s three, Michael Joshua Rowin, Keith Uhlich and Nicolas Rapold, are split; Rowin finds it a flawed film that grows into "a frantic, disorienting tragedy about the seduction of power." Uhlich and Rapold are awesomely dismissive ("Because the world needed a Tony Scott-ish remake of ‘The Constant Gardner’…" Uhlich begins).
But enough of all this discussion of the film â€” how’s that Forest Whitaker?
Edelstein: "Dwarfing all is Forest Whitaker, who finally gets to seize the space and show us how he can rage. His Amin is the most bloodcurdling kind of actor: a paranoiac with one eye on his audience and the power to give them the hook."
Lisa Schwarzbaum (EW): "I can’t think of a better actor to toggle between media-savvy jester and stone-cold killer than Forest Whitaker, who, even dressed in a kilt, conveys serious menace along with mania. A massively built man who projects the energy and nimbleness of someone daintier, he barrels through this story with great control masquerading as recklessness."
Zacharek: "This is a wonderful, horrifying performance: Whitaker doesn’t take the easy way out by playing Amin as a killer clown, a treacherous buffoon. Amin might have been crazy, but Whitaker — at the beginning of the movie, though not the end — teases out threads of believable sanity and charisma. This is how dictators get away with murder: by wielding personal charm like a mace."
David Denby (New Yorker): "Whitaker has done some surpassingly gentle and rueful work in the past, but for this role he has transformed himselfâ€”he’s either sprawled in a stupor or alarmingly mobile, throwing his big body around the room as if it weighed nothing. His laugh is enormous, and his arms are like grappling hooks. This dictator has a terrifying affability: like many sociopaths, he can be surprisingly empathic."
J. Hoberman at the Village Voice: "Frears has never redeemed the early promise of ‘Bloody Kids,’ nor returned to the form of ‘My Beautiful Laundrette,’ nor made anything nearly as ambitious as ‘Sammy and Rosie Get Laid.’ Nevertheless, ‘The Queen’ is his career-capperâ€”maybe even his knight’s move. Whether or not Tony Blair actually saved the British monarchy, Frears has made it seem so and even worth doing."
Dana Stevens at Slate: "Stephen Frears’ ‘The Queen,’ on the other hand, is a sheer delight to sit through and leaves you with a whole evening’s worth of impassioned conversation." (She also compairs the film to a Henry James novel.)
Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly: "[T]his engrossing and unexpectedly penetrating drama, with its truly fresh perspective on how response to the news of one dead princess recalibrated the relationship between the British monarchy and the masses, is more than just another pop entry in history’s ongoing Dianathon."
Manohla Dargis at the New York Times: "How heavy that crown and how very lightly Helen Mirren wears it as queen. With Mr. Frearsâ€™s gentle guidance, she delivers a performance remarkable in its art and lack of sentimentalism. Actors need to be loved, but one of Ms. Mirrenâ€™s strengths has always been her supreme self-confidence that we will love the performance no matter how unsympathetic the character. It takes guts to risk our antipathy, to invite us in with brilliant technique rather than bids for empathy."
Stephanie Zacharek at Salon:
"Mirren’s performance is glorious: Rather than impersonate the queen —
which would have been all too easy to do — she reaches deeper to
locate the buried, calcified thoughts and feelings that might guide
this deeply inscrutable woman."
David Edelstein at New York: "Thereâ€™s something perverseâ€”delightfully perverseâ€”about a film in which the suspense is in whether a woman can bring herself to make a grudging statement of grief, and when she acquiesces, itâ€™s not exactly a stand-up-and-cheer kind of climax… The catastrophe is a public-relations one, and what Elizabeth has to sell is her image. She has it coming, though: She was frightful to poor, unhinged Diana, the queen of modernity, of celebrity culture. The Queen is the most reverent irreverent comedy imaginable. Or maybe itâ€™s the most irreverent reverent comedy. Either way, itâ€™s a small masterpiece."